The Dew Breaker - Book Review

After the devastating earthquake last week, I wanted to read more about Haiti, and after hearing Edwidge Danticat interviewed on NPR, I remembered I had a couple of her books on my shelf.

The Dew Breaker is a collection of short stories – but I almost hesitate to call them that. The stories are stand-alone but they are also intricately linked to each other, sometimes by characters, sometimes by events. These links are not obvious at first; they are often “AHA!” or “I did not see that coming” moments.

Most of the stories are of Haitian immigrants to the United States. There are harrowing stories just under the surface of conventional veneers, and Danticat slowly and expertly reveals them. Many of the immigrants escaped the terror of the Duvalier dynasty; some participated. All bear the scars, both literally and figuratively. We get glimpses of executions, uprisings and the overthrow of Baby Doc in the stories that take place in Haiti.

In the final –title - story, we learn the story of the dew breaker, the torturer/murderer. It is somewhat sympathetic, as we learn bits of his childhood and of personal struggles. We come to see that the jailers in Haiti are as much prisoners of their lives as their victims are. Fear is a constant, trust is non-existent. What people must do to survive such a violent, poor and chaotic country is far beyond what I can imagine.

I’ve read another of Danticat’s books – Breath, Eyes, Memory– and thought it stunning. I plan to read Krik? Krak! soon. The Washington Post Book World wrote of it, pre-earthquake: "If the news from Haiti is too painful to read, read this book instead and understand the place far more deeply than you ever thought possible." The Dew Breaker was an eye-opener, as I'm sure her other books are.

Highly recommended. (4/5)